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Monday, February 14, 2011

Album Review: Turisas - Stand Up And Fight

There are those close-minded souls who are quick to pour disdain on metal that doesn’t rip their heads off and spit down their throats. Expansive melodic metal and, in particular, folk metal therefore often comes in for quite a rough ride, but this seems harsh on a band such as Finland’s Turisas who seem to pour their hearts and souls into recreating belting Viking tales of yore. Now if there was one set of characters who were more likely to rip your head off and spit down your throat than the Viking warriors then I’d love to hear about them.

Turisas delight in referring to their particular genre as “Battle Metal” (Hell, they named their first album it) and it certainly suits them to a tee. They play rampaging anthems that angry up the blood and their ardent fans, like their heroes, aptly turn up to shows wielding axes and baring skin ready for the fight. Such is their dedication you’ll often see them clad only in furs and facepaint (yes, even in the winter months), so they’re a pretty hardy bunch.

Their latest offering, Stand Up And Fight, which comes enveloped in a stunning Frank Miller-esque cover, picks up where 2008′s conceptual masterpiece, The Varangian Way, left off (in Constantinople actually), but moves quickly onwards to deliver stories that speak to us on several levels. “In general, the songs are much more universal and deal with topics that can be placed just as tightly into the modern world as in the 11th century Byzantine Empire.” explains frontman Mathias Nygård. “Stand Up And Fight has much more to offer the contemporary listener.”

From the opening volley of “The March Of The Varangian Guard” to the ridiculously catchy title-track (one listen and you will be humming it for weeks), it is clear that the production is cleaner, the orchestral touches have become more prevalent and there is plenty more pomp and circumstance being carefully slotted into place. It’s down to the fact that, for the first time, there are string and horn sections hand-picked from leading symphony orchestras to accompany the band’s regular offering of guitars, keyboards, percussion, accordion and violin, and that makes this music on an epic scale; the album seriously sports the kind of bombast that is usually only to be found in grand film scores.

“βένετοι! – πράσινοι!”, which roughly translates as “The Blues! The Greens!” (the two opposing parties of the Roman/Byzantine Senate), feels straight away like this album’s tonal piece – the keystone track that “In The Court Of Jarisleif” became for their last album. Comparing the two certainly shines a light on the changes that Stand Up And Fight offers. It’s a vast, mainly instrumental, piece that inserts you, not dancing a jig round a campfire as “ITCOF” did, but standing with mouth agape in a great echoing hall with fanfares firing off in all directions. It is, essentially, an invite to the coronation of Turisas and, if I’m honest, it feels a little overblown. There are hints of guilded Dragonforce and Within Temptation here where previously has stood the muck and brass of Korpiklaani and Finntroll. This theme continues with “The Great Escape”, as bowed strings lead the way, and for the tender, bitter tang of the operatic “End Of An Empire”, but the fighting down-to-earth spirit still cuts apart the rollicking sea shanty “Hunting Pirates” and, naturally, that killer title-track.

Whichever song you pile into there’s always Nygård’s deep, emotive vocal to guide you along, a vast ocean of extravagance and drama lying behind it and rich, orchestrated strata and choral harmonies blasting through it. Only the most ardent of haters could truly fail to see the potential for this music to be coupled with an all-singing all-dancing stageshow but, having said that, here’s hoping they bring it back to the pit for the next album because this one feels a little too much like they’re trying to plunder Broadway rather than the battle-hardened spirits of their fanbase.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/turisas-stand-up-and-fight

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